George & Peace: the old soldier, the new garden and the big idea

Seventy years ago, the people of Wellington were digging for victory. At 88 years of age George Evans, who vividly remembers that war, is urging us all to join him and do a little bit of digging for peace. As his ambitions for a town ‘peace garden’ take root and become a reality, I spoke to George about his big idea and what he hopes it will achieve.

Why create a Peace Garden?

Seeing the creation of a Peace Garden in Wellington, George Evans tells me, will be ‘this old soldier’s dream’. 2012 marks 70 years since his conscription to fight in what he always optimistically calls the Last World War. It also marks 90 years since his father’s generation of Wellingtonians built the war memorial at All Saints Church, commemorating that other terrible conflict that ended in 1918.

‘Wellington’s War Memorial originally had two main purposes:  to commemorate the men who had been killed in the Great War and to promote peace on earth. The first aim succeeded, and we still meet there on Remembrance Sunday to honour our war dead. The second, however, failed. There have been many wars since then. I do not believe wars are inevitable. If enough people all over the world oppose war for long enough, wars will end.’

View through the war memorial Lytchgate at All Saints Church

The seeds are sown…

And so that’s what the Peace Garden is all about – reaffirming that pledge of 90 years ago to work towards the maintenance of a peaceful world. What’s more, it will mean our town coming together to create something lasting, something beautiful and something shared which we can all contribute to and all take pride in.

George is determined that whilst it might have initially been his idea, this garden will become everyone’s property and everyone’s responsibility. To that end, he can reel off a whole host of supporters. He tells me that several Christian churches, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists, Agnostics and Atheists alike have all been enthusiastic, along with Labour folks, Conservatives, Liberals and Anarchists, several clubs and societies, and also schools and colleges. (I love that George knows anarchists – where does he find them? Is there a newsletter?)

White flowers will make up the majority of the garden

The garden will be on strip of land in front of Wellington’s new civic buildings, which are nearing completion at present. That means this is council land, and we should thank them for their help, but it won’t be a council project. Of all those people George can count amongst the garden’s supporters, most are happy to contribute a plant, he tells me, and even to look after it. In the spirit of this website and the get-up-and-do-it attitude we’re trying to promote, this garden will be what we make it. And George is adamant that not a penny of public money need be spent.

‘Because our garden will be in a very prominent position we will need friends to look after it as well as supporters. It would be marvellous if we had a plant for everyone in Wellington, but is 20,000 plants too much to hope for? Perhaps, but there is certainly a great deal of support and the garden will look beautiful.’

And what if some people don’t respect this new space? George is typically laid back about the prospect:

‘Will it be vandalised?  Will the plants be stolen? Perhaps so. Some few people will not understand, even when they’re sober. If they knew what war really is like they’d join us. But if this happens we will simply clear up and replace the missing plants with new ones. There is no need for any of our contributions to be expensive.’

Quite. Let’s not be put off by lack of faith in our fellow human beings. There are plenty good and considerate people out there to outweigh the thoughtlessness of a few.

A garden with a message

For me, the great practical value of this project will be in bringing neighbours together in positive, collective endeavour that benefits our town. For George, it really does feel like a very personal commitment to peace rooted in his own experiences of war.

‘We, the generation that suffered a world war, who were shot at, shelled and bombed know that the reality isn’t fun. It’s terrible, horrible, miserable, terrifying, frustrating, painful and all the worst things you can imagine; especially when you watch your friends being slaughtered and expect to be the next. None of the exciting stories tells you that.’

Is a Peace Garden going to put an end to war or the tyranny, injustice and greed that fuel war? No. But, like the war memorials our forefathers built 90 years ago, it will stand as a visible sign of our commitment to building a better world. And if that all sounds a bit grand? Well it shouldn’t. And at the very least, this will be a beautiful garden that we have created together in our town – neighbours from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds, all faiths and none. When it comes to building friendship and peace in the world, Wellington is just one pebble on the beach. But it’s as good a place to start as any. So, as a citizen of Wellington and a citizen of the world, bring a plant and do your bit.

The garden will be officially opened in March (we hope). As George says, it’s very exciting. We’ll see you there.